Saturday, July 29, 2017

(Video) Game Review: Crawl


So my gaming group all hang out together and one of us had this new video game, Crawl from Powerhoof  We got so distracted we didn't even play out scheduled game that night. Its a blast, so I thought I would give it a review since it stole table top gaming time.

Premise:


Above is the launch trailer, basically laying out the way it works.

You were an adventuring party delving into some horrible dungeon, but you and your buddies got cursed and are now doomed to fight each other for humanity as you descend deeper into the dungeon. You get to play as monsters/traps when you are not the only human. When you kill the human you get to be human again. You level up, buy magic weapons, loot chests, and when you are strong enough you can challenge the boss. If you kill the boss you win your freedom from the cycle!

Game Play:

User Experiance

All of the gameplay takes place on the same screen, no split screen silliness.

Nice and simple controls, just direction and two buttons. It handles pretty well. I use an Xbox controller, but the keyboard controls are totally functional as well.

The graphics are a nostalgic pixel style with an acceptable amount of detail for each monster/boss/weapon/room. The lighting effects are well done. It looks great.

The soundtrack if fun, but a little repetitive after a few rounds of play.

The AI is well written, the three levels (easy, medium, hard) are well balanced.

Mechanics:

When starting the game you choose an Immortal that you worship, this gives you some mechanical advantage (25% more damage done with traps, monsters have more health, etc) and lays out which monsters you can manifest as.

There is a face off in the first room where as humans you all fight, the last one standing starts out as the human. This is pretty fun.

When playing as the human you run around the dungeon level looking for treasure, the item shop to upgrade abilities/weapons/artifacts, and the way down to the next level. Once you hit level 10 you can challenge the boss.



When not playing as a human you fly around as a ghost and can: interact with atmospheric things (torches, chains on the wall, blood fountains, etc), traps (buzzsaws, spikes, flame throwers, throwing crates, etc) and most importantly become a monster when you fly into a pentagram on the floor (more on this in a bit).

There tends to be a lot of changing of who is the human. When playing with all four players its a very fast paced game, and it can be hard to keep track of were your character is in the chaos.

Probably my favorite part of the game is the monster mechanics. Every time a human gains a level the non-humans all get "wrath" points that they can spend to evolve the monsters. For example you start with three wimpy little guys: a dire rat, a skeleton, and a gnome. You fight the human a bit and they gain a level, giving you some wrath to spend on upgrading your monsters to scarier things like a skeleton archer or skeleton duelist. This is a lot of fun, especially when you start playing as some D&D classic monsters like beholders, dragons, mind flayers, giants, and pit fiends.


And the big trick is that you don't have every aspect of the game unlocked initially. By beating the bosses you unlock more features, ie a new weapon type, a new trap, or new monster evolution paths. Its super addicting, you finish the game and just want to play again to try out the new stuff!

Summary:

Pros:

  • Addicting, fun to play with friends or alone.
  • Well designed graphics/ambiance.
  • Fun leveling system for humans and monsters a like.
  • Feels like arcade games you could play against your friends as a kid and get really emotionally invested and fight about. Good shit.

Cons:

  • Can be very hard, especially when there are all four players in play and can get frustrating if you don't get your time as the human. The soundtrack and dungeon level diversity is shamefully limited (each dungeon level has a cool name that implies an atmosphere but they all look the same!).
  • Some monsters are blatantly better than others and you don't get any information about them other than their picture until you try them out.
  • Games can take a long time when on higher difficulties, like more than an hour.

What You Should Steal:

This could be a cool way to run PvP. You throw player controlled monsters at them until they die then the killer becomes a character again and runs around some more. It would require a super streamlined system to allow leveling and monster advancement to happen quickly.

The boss fights are pretty inspired, they generally each have a gimmick and escalate significantly in difficulty through the fight. I could probably write a whole post on that, but +Arnold K. basically did that here, so I wont.

Rating: ****/*****, worth the $15 if you have controllers for everyone.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Magic Tattoos

So this topic has been beaten to death with a stick, starting at 3.5E (feat and equipment, I guess?), creeping into D&D's wayward child Pathfinder (archetype and feat, I guess?), and of course finding a modern home in the homebrewing sphere of 5E.

I don't have any interest in writing more rules for if you get infected when you get tattooed, there are too many of those already. I already wrote about the tattoos barbarians and monks have, so lets use that as a jumping off point.

Acquiring a Magic Tattoo Design:

Magic tattoos are uncommon and unsightly things. You must inscribe in your flesh the arcane geometry in the appropriate materials to warp reality around the nexus of ley lines living on your skin. Finding a way to do this is a pretty rare occurrence, few Magi spend their valuable time researching ways for warriors to get stronger so they can kill more warriors (they are too busy staring at the stars). So when a new magic tattoo is designed it is often by accident or by madness.

Pirate captains and warlords have these special tattoos, not emperors and generals. These are relict knowledge of a savage Age and polite society tends to close their gates and turn their noses the tattooed heathens from beyond the waves who come to their white cities.

Rumor has it you can find magic tattoo designs here (1d6):
  1. On the corpse of a long dead Sea King, you have to go dig them up and cut off their skin and take it to a tattooist to be deciphered and transcribed. They are interned on the Ivory Island of course.
  2. In an ancient text deep in the archives of one of the Minoan Universities. You'll have to either enroll as a student or break in to gain access, But beware! Those musty old men are steeped in bureaucracy and have deep institutional power behind them, get caught stealing and you'll like never be allowed in the Republic again.
  3. Scratched into the dungeon walls of one of the Towers of the Moon by insane prisoners of the Nekros Archanis in their insights of eternal near death. If you ever find yourself in these dungeons it may be worth while to copy the scrawling, but good luck discerning arcane diagrams from the scrawls of a fevered and broken mind...
  4. The ruling line of the Wayward Clans of Arsuf often has a clan magic tattoo inscribed once they reach adulthood. Their detractors say that each clan's patron Daemon taught them their tattoo and that its actually a way for the Daemons to manipulate them. Maybe you can go hunting for one of them and kill one of the ruling line? Or perhaps you can bind a Daemon and ask for a magic tattoo yourself...
  5. That company officer tattoo of the Steller's Jays, the mercenary company led by the enigmatic Ramsay Steller, is supposed to actually be a magic tattoo. They just rarely have the appropriately skilled tattooist do the ink job, so not many of them actually work. Join up and maybe you can get a copy of the designs if you get promoted, or perhaps you can kill a few and take their hides to be studied.
  6. The guild of grandmaster tattooists known as the Seven Sages, are said to know a few powerful magic tattoo designs but they will only tattoo those they find worthy by passing their Seven Trials. (Think of them as like a mix between philosophers and master martial artists, they could probably also teach monks a thing or two about fighting)

Finding a Tattooist and Getting Inked:

This guy will tattoo you, if you're cool enough.

At least an expert tattooist must be employed to inscribe a magic tattoo, and depending on the complexity of the tattoo more talented tattooists must be found (it may be in the party's interest to try and convince a tattooist to move to their settlement and work under their protection, but they'll have to build them a studio).

Once an sufficiently skilled tattooist is found they will have to be given time to study the magic tattoo design and to gather the appropriate materials, this will take around a month and they will require half of the payment up front to acquire the components necessary.

The tattooing itself will take 1-4 months (same as getting tattooed for defense by the different levels of tattooist) of dedicated time every day to be done. This means you will be lying down for 8 hours every day in a quiet studio with a lot of incense and sandal wood burning, a good activity for the Season of Storms when travel is dangerous.


Example Magic Tattoos:

Mechanically magic tattoos are magic items that you can never un-attune from, until you have them removed by some painful or very expensive manner (in 5e, system agnostic they are just magic items). As with mundane tattoos they must be uncovered in order to work. Each tattoo has a minimum "level" of mundane tattoo for the tattoo to work properly.

Remember, every tattoo has to have a really cool story to go with it.

Here are 12 ideas based on the above sources:
  1. Aeropos's Pride: Master level tattoo, +5,000 , you can a +2 bonus to your Cha score and the ability to cast Viscous Mockery as a cantrip, using your character level as your caster level.
  2. Cassander's Secret: Expert level tattoo, +3,000,  you apply double your proficiency bonus when making a deception check and once per day you can detect whether a statement is a lie or not.
  3. Lysimachos's Swiftness: Expert level tattoo, +4,000, your base land speed increases by 10ft and you gain one of the following movement speeds: climb (half max), swim (half max), or burrow (quarter max). This choice is made at the time of tattooing.
  4. Demetrios's Hubris: Grandmaster level tattoo, +10,000
  5. Stain of Filth: Expert level tattoo, +2,500, you can cast Detect Undeath (as Detect Magic, but it only works on Necromancy magics) at will and you get advantage when parlaying with undead but disadvantage when parlaying with the living.
  6. Blemish of the Starless Night: Master level tattoo, +5,000, you bind your soul to your mortal coil and become undead (usually a ghoul). You no longer have to eat, drink, sleep or breath. You also gain a empathetic bond with the Nekros Archanis, driving you to do their bidding in the land of the Sun.
  7. Steller's Jays' Insignia: Expert level tattoo, +2,000, you can communicate silently with anyone else with the Insignia within a mile radius. This communication cannot pass through 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood.
  8. Mark of the Cresting Wave: Expert level tattoo, +2,500, you gain the limited ability to command water. This lets you create a current out of still water, slowly (10 min/gallon) boil or freeze water and mostly-water-substances, lets you ask water to not drown you quite as fast (double the duration you can hold your breath), and allows you to cast Cresting Wave (as Thunderwave but you must be on or near a body of water) once per day.
  9. Mark of the Barbed Harpoon: Master level tattoo, +4,000, you gain proficiency with the harpoon (as trident, but range 30/120), or if you already have proficiency you gain double your proficiency bonus with the harpoon. In addition on critical hits with harpoons opponents are considered restrained until they take a full round to rip out the harpoon which deals damage as normal when removed.
  10. Mark of the Lonely Albatross: Expert level tattoo, +2,500, once per day you can extend your arms into long white wings and float to the ground, as the effect of Feather Fall. In addition you can now speak with sea birds.
  11. Mark of the Starry Sail: Expert level tattoo, +1,500, you apply double your proficiency bonus to sailing checks and you can never become lost when under a starry sky.
  12. Wisdom of the Seven Sages: If you pass their trails the Sages will agree to tattoo you for free as long as you have up to a Master Level tattoo. The tattoo will be of Grandmaster Level has the following properties based on how the trails where overcome:
    1. You overcame the trials through shear strength, your Strength score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can hurl things (objects, people, yourself) twice as far as you normally could.
    2. You overcame the trials through skillful agility, your Dexterity score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can get extra slippery and automatically succeed some feat of acrobatics that would other wise be impossible (scale a glass wall, balance on the edge of a knife, the Iron Lotus)
    3. You overcame the trials through  steady resilience, your Constitution score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can choose to ignore one round of damage, this must be declared before any attacks or damages are rolled.
    4. You overcame the trials through cleverness and insight, your Intelligence score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can learn one weakness or strength of a living thing from 10 minutes of observation.
    5. You overcame the trials through intuition and temperance, your Wisdom score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can intuit the honesty of one statement after meditating on it for 10 minutes.
    6. You overcame the trials through force of personality, your Charisma score is now 25, unless it was already higher in which case this effect of the tattoo has no effect. In addition once per day you can generate a basic level of communication out of something that generally has no language (golems, eels, trees, clouds, termites, etc). This takes 10 minutes of intense observation and evocative dance.
    7. You overcame the trials through dumb luck, you now gain the Lucky trait as a Halfling (When you roll a 1 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll). If you already have the trait you reroll on 1s and 2s. In addition once per day you can roll with advantage on any attack roll, ability check, or saving throw even if you have disadvantage.
Mark of the Barbed Harpoon
Mark of the Lonely Albatross

Stain of Filth

Monday, July 10, 2017

Re-skinning for Ánemos: Monstrous Humanoids

I don't want orcs or goblins or kobolds or giants (get your gently Germanic folkstory hands off of my game!) in my Weird Greek Mythic Fantasy setting, Ánemos, but I want their functionality of intelligent, society having, trap laying humanoid enemies. So let's give the classic D&D monstrous humanoids a facelift, like I did for the playable races. This should be pretty easy because many D&D creatures are already in/based off of Greek monsters, but the Greek versions are usually a lot weirder. (And yes I know that some of these monsters aren't explicitly "mythic", but they come from the weird travel literature written in the Classical period).


Centaurs (They had those in Ancient Greek myth, no real change)
Bacchanalian and feral man beasts, their hedonism and virility are legendary. At the merest whiff of wine they fly into a revelrous rage and can drink a town dry in a night, eating cured meats and the flesh of men with identical abandon. The centaurs claim it is the corrupting influence of the house-people on their innocent natural state that drives them into their rampages. They beg, "Please! Do not bring me more! My distended stomach aches! My liver throbs with wine! My knees grow weak!", but not many speak their strange language....

Any creature, human or otherwise, unlucky enough to lay with a centaur will always bear a centaur child that will gallop out of their womb and straight into the wilds to join the Herd.

It is rumored that if you can keep them out of their cups they are actually a wise culture with deep knowledge of philosophy and astrology. They accept payment in the form of wine or silver, but it is up to the supplicant to make sure that the centaur sage doesn't start drinking until they have answered their questions and they have put some miles between them and the Herd.


Cyclopes (Ogres and Ettins)
Cruel and petty creatures known for keep herds of sheep and men alike to satisfy their hunger for fresh raw flesh. They live solitary lives in caves, but near enough to others of their kind so they can share gossip and gang up on unsuspecting travelers coming to their islands.

They have been known to leave their islands on wanderings, venturing to far off lands on crudely made rafts or stolen vessels to eat exotic meats and sleep under strange rocks. Scholars argue about the purpose of these travels, some propose that this is for mating reasons or migratory instincts while their opponents argue that it is a mechanism of population control to send out small bands of cyclopes to hostile lands to be killed or to conquer.

If you ask the cyclopes they will simply say they are going on an adventure, and you may have to deal with them carefully to avoid ruin. When treated well, ie with lots of hot bloody meat, its possible to steer cyclopes in more productive directions like: adventuring somewhere else, smashing all of this stupid wheat, or building large stone laying projects (cyclopes are surprisingly talented masons). But don't mistake them for eager laborers, they are notorious for cutting corners or eating those that gave them work.

A two eye cyclopes is not unheard of, though these beings have two mind occupying their single body and they bicker incessantly with themselves and everyone they meet.

Hecatoncheires (Giants)
Standing taller than most ship masts the Hundred Handed Ones, the Hecatoncheires, are many armed and many headed giants. Only a few dozen are known to exist, some believe that they were once a race of beings not unlike humans. The story goes that they fought amongst themselves they discovered that the victors could claim the heads and arms of slain opponents until all of those that survived were fearsome hundred armed giants. Others some claim that anyone can become a Hecatoncheires, one must simply rip the head and arms off of an oponent in combat. These limbs are rumored to be attached in a long and painful ritual, with new limbs growing every few years.

Fearsome to behold but more fearsome to quarrel with, the Hundred Handed Ones are smiths of mythic skill. They jealously guard their wondrous creations from any they distrust, which is nearly everyone. Far flung across the many islands of Ánemos they toil away in their volcanic workshops under their isolated fortress isles acting as master, father and god to those that also toil on their behalf. One thing is for certain, they hate and fear each other, always plotting to destroy their brethren. It is a long, quiet, and deadly game of chess.
 

Spartoi (Orcs)
First made when the Mágos-King of Histria was but a young scholar; he captured, studied, and eventually wed the Drakon of  the Ephyraen Narrows. He learned from his beloved about the many wonderful properties of the teeth of drakes, that among other things they could be planted like seeds in the earth and tireless and loyal servants would rise up after a year and a day. In secret the king studied the teeth that his beloved had gifted him until he discovered a way to grow the teeth in a fraction of the time. He slayed his wife for her rows of razor sharp teeth (and he also bathed in her blood), and with the teeth he grew an army overnight, claiming island after island for his until he grew to the dread figure we are familiar with today.

The Mágos-King is long  entombed, but his great invention the Spartoi still click-clack through the night in Ánemos to do their current masters' bidding. Slay one and the Drakon tooth may remain intact and ready to grow you a new Spartoi that is strong in body if rigid in mind.

Tooth of Drakon: Bury any tooth of a true Drakon in a few inches of soil and water well while chanting the battle song of Histria. In 10 minutes a Spartoi will climb out of the earth to serve you (stats as a 4HD orc). After being slain their is a 1-in-6 chance that it is destroyed, decreasing by 1 for each subsequent use (ie 2-in-6 the second time, 3-in-6 the third, etc). Roll a d6 to randomly determine how many uses a found tooth has.

Cynocephalus (Kobolds)
Once nearly driven to extinction by the taller races of the Spangled Sea the hated Cynocephalus live in far flung den-caverns on quite islands far from Empire. With the swollen heads of dogs and the lumpy bodies of midgets, Cynocephalus are a clever and wicked people with their own barking language and perverse goals. They can hunt like stubby legged dogs and are fiercely devious when devising traps.

Some powerful Cynocephalus witches are said to be able to shape-shift; their preferred forms are that of the hooded seal, griffon vulture, and giant sea slug. All of their forms still have the horrible twisted faces of dogs. These witches' heads are highly valued by Magi working on transmutations.

Some Cynocephalus have been known to tour with menageries or are kept as oddities by collectors (with against their wishes). In the great metropolises of the world there are even small communities of Cynocephalus that live in warrens beneath the slums. Many blame them for spreading the plague and causing birth defects, though that is actually due to the fleas that live in their filthy fur.

Acephali (Goblins, Hobgoblins, Bugbears)
A race bizarre near-humans that have no heads but wear faces are upon their chests. You can tell how old one is by the length of their limbs, a very young one has an adult human sized torso but stubby little arms and legs and a fully grown adult will have freakishly long limbs and will tower over humans. They reproduce asexually by budding a new torso where a humans head would be, and when the new Acephali's torso reaches full size it tumbles off of their parents shoulders and begin to scrabble around on their new hands and feet.

They seem a silly people, prone to extended ludicrous games and extravagant pranks. But be careful! Behind their nasally laughter the Acephali are cruel beings without the capacity or desire to empathize with anyone not of their kind. It is reported that liberated texts from Acephali philosophers describe their belief that they are the only true thinking and feeling beings in Ánemos and that everyone else simple simulates emotion and thought like the beasts of the field.